On a recent visit to Canada, my dad proudly showed me his new rooftop solar panels.
His system includes a dashboard to check the daily power output. Sunny days show a dramatic spike and fall as the sun hits the panels, while overcast days produce a lower peak, but generate energy over a longer period. They’ll pay for themselves in 25 years based on current electricity prices, and fewer if power prices go up (and is there any other way?). Unused power goes back into the grid, reducing my parents’ bill.
This whole business is exciting yet surprising.
My dad likes the natural world and all. He grew up hunting, fishing and bushwhacking in northern Ontario. He gets great enjoyment from spotting eagles, hawks and hummingbirds. He follows salmon runs the way some follow sports. He would tell my siblings and I that BC is the best place on earth long before it became the province’s advertising slogan. He even tries to remember his shopping bags when he hits the grocery store.
And yet, he’s no greenie.
Nowadays my dad’s natural habitat is Costco. He’s been investing in tar sands projects since before they started breaking even. He suggested to me on this visit that I invest in Enbridge, builder of pipelines. We disagree on a few things.
Conversations with my dad about renewables devolve like clockwork into a debate about whether oil extraction or wind turbines kill more birds. If you’d asked me to picture him installing solar panels on his own roof, I’d have fallen off my chair laughing.
I was genuinely curious to know what prompted him to install rooftop solar. Did Costco sell them? No, he said, a radio ad from a local roofing company had laid out a strong argument. Apparently he’d been considering them for a while and finally decided it was the right time and the economics would make sense. I’d like to think my years long campaign of emailed news articles and about the growth and benefits of solar helped.
The company from the radio offered a free site assessment and prepared several possible output scenarios to choose from based on different amounts of hardware. Even in notoriously overcast Vancouver, the solar panels are projected to save a significant amount.The ancient Douglas Firs on their property don’t help, but neither do they hinder energy generation as much as expected. My parents have already saved one tonne of CO2 in two months, equivalent to removing a car from the road.
My dad didn’t change, but his behaviour did when the product and the message evolved to better suit him. It’s become much cheaper, less risky. The decision was steeped in pragmatism, rather than belief, political affiliation or even widespread social norms – in fact, he’s the first in his neighbourhood. In the Diffusion of Innovation model, he’s part of the early majority for solar panel adoption.
I shouldn’t have underestimated his capacity for new behaviour. After all, everyone holds seemingly contradictory viewpoints. It was me who needed to stay openminded. He still says he doesn’t like the look of them, but I suspect his stance will soften there too.